Saturday, March 24, 2007

I Have Made Quilts

Visiting a lot of other blogs this week, I have been feeling twinges of craft envy. There are so many creative and productive women sharing their art; they are painting, quilting, knitting, sewing, designing, cooking and baking, taking beautiful photographs and writing up a storm, and some of them are even raising hens in their backyards (sigh!) At every web page I pause and exclaim, "Oh! I wanna do that!" I do. I want to dabble all over the place and play in the whimsical playground of my mind.

For my own pleasure, and as a reminder that I have played before, and may play again, someday, I snapped some photos of creations of the past. I distinctly recall being 8.75 months pregnant with Maria, finishing my last two quilts and reminding myself that with a new baby in the house it could be a few years before I would have the time or feel capable of making anything. Every stitch and square was a like a fond farewell to my creative outlet. "So long quilting hoops, until we meet again." It's been a worthwhile exchange... I have the blessing of my daughter and lots of time to connect and relate to this newest member of our family. Actually, I think she is part of my awakening desire to make things again, because she likes making art and she appreciates pretty blankets and cute, cute things.

I was about 9 years old when I first knew I wanted to make a quilt. Being both unskilled and lazy, I cut into fabric, made some sloppy squares and began reattaching them with big loping stitches. I grew bored and was unimpressed after about the 7th square. I kept the flimsy strip of misshaped pieces for many years, before I realized no amount of skill or effort would ever redeem my first attempt at quilting.

In middle school my history teacher planted a second quilting seed in my head. He was a fantastic history teacher, making the American frontier come alive through facts and storytelling. I was particularly riveted by the stories about townships, like the ones that developed in Wisconsin. My teacher was from Wisconsin, which may account for his heartfelt, beautiful descriptions of life in a township. He talked about barn raising and the land set aside for the schoolhouse and he talked about quilting bees. Oh, the wonder. I fell in love with quilting and Wisconsin all together and forever.

It was fate. I met and fell in love with Geoff, and suddenly my Wisconsin-Quilting fantasy was coming together. He and I traveled back to his home state together and all my ideas and hopes were affirmed when I met his grandmother, Nancy. Grandma Nancy is hospitality and home, she is genuine and kind, she is the best of all I ever imagined I could find in Wisconsin, and she quilts. She has made an amazing variety and assortment of quilts; big and little quilts, wall quilts, bed quilts, baby quilts, wedding quilts, artistic quilts and pillow-quilts. Her most recent project is a series of wall quilts representing 6 continents. I am in awe of her skill, creativity and generosity. We have many examples of her work, which I treasure immensely.

My first attempt at quilting left me with a mark of shame, and I could not forgive my 9 year old self for being wasteful, and hasty, so I waited quite a while before I felt worthy or capable of learning how to quilt. When William was two, he and I made a trip to the Midwest and it was on this trip, September 1993, that I asked Grandma Nancy if she could help me start a quilt. I still carry that lazy gene and I couldn't fathom actually finishing an entire quilt. It seemed ambitious enough just to start a quilt. Nancy is a fun woman, with a patient and 'willing to try new things' attitude, so she never made me feel less than able or intimidated. In a few days she and I chose a pattern and fabric and she walked me through piecing my first square: Baby Bud.

The bud of the square is a dark blue calico and she had enough of that print on hand for me to use it in the center of 15 blocks. We bought muslin and the green fabric at the Ben Franklin in town. We agreed I would look for a fourth fabric to finish the quilt at home. I went home with my finished block, and Grandma's encouragement. Over 9 months and with a number of instructions and suggestions taken over the phone, I actually finished an entire quilt. It is machine pieced and hand quilted. It is big enough to cover a double size bed. The fourth fabric perfectly matched the blue bud, but has faded at a completely different rate. I used a very lightweight batting, so it's not a heavy quilt. I love it. It is worn and comfy and soft, the muslin is smooth. It needs mending. Somehow, it became an old quilt.

I was pregnant as I finished this first quilt and as my confidence increased, so did my desire to make another quilt just for the baby. So, I started a second quilt, and this time I revisited my first idea of a quilt: Lots of squares cut and sewn together. Only this time, I carefully measured and cut each square from fabric scraps, including a favorite old dress, kitchen curtains I'd made for another house, and a blouse I also made, but no longer wore. I liked that I was not wasting fabric and that each square would be from something I enjoyed in its former life. I machine pieced all the squares, saving a blouse pocket for the center square.

The pocket has been a favorite feature and the namesake of this quilt: The Pocket Quilt. Alex used his quilt for many years, and now it's usually on Max's bed. I hand quilted each square with either cats, hearts or stars and one square has a smiling sun. I finished the edge with a simple ruffle. This quilt is quite worn too. I wish it could last forever, but it makes me happy to know it is loved and comforts drowsy children.

Since the first two quilts, I have made two lap quilts; one went to Grandma E. and one to a nephew. I made an Amish quilt for my brother Hans and his new bride. It was double size and entirely covered in hand quilting. It was my most ambitious and challenging effort. I actually bled quilting it and lost feeling in the tip of my finger. I made two quilt pillows for my mom. I made a baby quilt for my friend Jola, when her son Alexander was born. It took me a long time to finish my last two quilts, and when I realized I was pregnant with Maria, I knew it would be impossible to finish them unless I did it before she was born. Quilting those two was a race against time and my growing abdomen. I finished them with no time to spare.

This one turned out to be just the right dose of pink to welcome our baby girl. I had started it two years earlier, from scraps I bought at a decorating store. It is larger than a baby quilt, but not quite twin size. I hand quilted this one too.

The Christmas quilt came from my idea to have an old fashioned looking quilt that would remind us of living in a rustic home at Christmas. I chose a variety of patterns and just started cutting and piecing blocks, depending on what I had available. I reasoned that I would make lots of blocks and decide on the layout later. I also tried appliqué for the first time. Max suggested things that made him think of Christmas, like stars and music, and then I designed, sewed and embroidered fitting images.

The arrangements were random and meant to look folksy.

We included our chicas and light, and a home. I made a square with a cross, it looks like a gift, which I think is fitting in many ways, and it includes the children's initials.

This square was another symbol of love for my family and of gratitude for having skills to share with them.

It was a huge challenge making all the odd sizes and various blocks piece together, but I think the craziness adds to the charm. I finished it with machine and hand quilting. There's another row of blocks hanging on the back of the stair railing, but this shows most of the completed Christmas quilt. I backed the whole quilt in a deep cranberry flannel for extra coziness and warmth.

I love seeing the children snuggled under this quilt.

There. I feel crafty now.
Whoa! We worked. No chain saws in the nature preserve so it was all ¡Manuel Labor, muchachos! The plan was to clear a trail loop near the creek, and it called for the clearing of a lot of overgrown acacia trees. Those trees are not native, so we were free to clear them out as much as possible, so that native species have more room to grow.

That's Alex at the top of the slope that leads from the school parking lot down to the preserve. He did a lot of raking, pulling out dead undergrowth.

Other students helped with pulling up dead brush and hauling. It's nice working with volunteers. Everyone is there because they want to help, so there were no slackers or whiners.

William worked very hard. He and I concentrated on hauling out the branches from where they were cutting back acacias. We dragged brush and branches back up the slope and to piles that will later be run through a chipper.

I was impressed with how much was accomplished in 3 hours. The acacia trees were dense and all the sawing was done by hand.

The trail approaches the seasonal creek, which has some water now, and then it rises again back toward the school.

Tadpoles and mosquito fish were seen in the water. During heavier rains, this area will flood.

Back and forth, we were hauling a lot of stuff and happily there were no injuries.

There was a biologist on hand to point out which species needed protection, like these buttercups and the lupine and willows.

Something else needed protecting: Everyone fell in love with this baby spring bunny that hopped out onto the trail. It was very tiny and probably lost. We tried to return it to its most likely home. I suppose he was scared, but he kept hopping out in to the open, and even spent a few minutes sitting between my boots.

I aimed my camera between my boots, where the baby bunny sat. Cute, cute.

Alex, William and I will sleep well tonight, or at least we earned a good night's sleep. I am looking forward to going back and exploring the trail again soon. This morning I felt like working in the sun, clearing brush and hauling branches, was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt entitled to a break, but I was reminded that a break is a change from the usual and that is what we enjoyed... we had a good time getting tired, dirty, working together with new friends, out in nature.
Happy Earth Day.

Alex recruited us as volunteers to clear a nature trail at school. We are due at 9 a.m., with gloves, and rakes. I have heard that we aren't so much as clearing a trial as making one out of the wilderness. This should be interesting. I plan to bring a bee sting first aid arsenal.

I wish we were in a different physical/emotional state for today's venture. Maria ran a fever all night. She is congested, restless and clingy. Geoff is sick and he spent the night migrating back and forth from the bed to the sofa, and reporting to me the varying stages of his numerous ailments. I don't know if I slept. I must have passed out numerous times, because I definitely woke up numerous times. Even in my sleep, I was dreaming of curing the sick, feeding the hungry and other surreal scenarios.

Now Geoff is going to stay home and watch the two young ones, while I go and clear brush, remove branches and avoid rattlesnakes, Africanized bees, yellow-jackets, hornets and poison oak. It's not that I am fearful or wimpy, it's just that it is Spring and we are marching off the beaten path and in to a lagoon, after a recent rainfall. Okay maybe it's part wimpy, part sensible caution, and part really, really wanting to stay in my pajamas and fall asleep.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Something new. I love the "Button Movie" I found at

Colorfool. The self-described stay at home mom at Colorfool is very crafty and inspiring. Scroll down her web page and look at what she made for her daughter's kitchen. "Cute, Cute," Maria would say. I would agree.

Today started as a clean-up my house day. I was quite determined to turn the tide around here. I got started, which is good and I intend to continue, also good, but the cosmic farces have been against me, and for the moment my cleaning plans are stalled, again. Maria is very tender and clingy. Her eye looks much better, but she still coughs and gets fussy. She made a scandalous fuss earlier when I left her on the sofa. I don't hesitate to look the other way for a little crying, but she reached an inconsolable and pitiful state, so I gave up trying to collect laundry, and went to hold her.

She gulped her breath, she tried to compose herself, she clung to me and said, "Cryin', cryin'. I cryin', cryin.'" Then she threw-up, which scared and upset her so, she started cryin', cryin' some more.

Somehow we are both bathed, and in fresh clothes. She is asleep. I marvel at the coordination, the ergonomics, method, strategy, technique and skill it takes to overcome vomit, and vomit damage. First console the barfer, while simultaneously containing as much flowage as possible. Secondly, while containing vomit, transport everyone and everything to a nonporous surface, such as a tile floor or bathtub. Without alarming barfer, and away from open windows or public access areas, peel off all vomited apparel, including your own; set these aside for laundry triage at a later time. Get all slimed subjects to a tub or shower. A damp washcloth or baby wipes will never erase the *smell.* You need flowing, warm water and lovely fragrant bath gel; whatever good stuff you've been saving, use it now.

I could write a survival manual for all kinds of barf scenarios, trust me.
It's dark as night outside. Maria and I are the only ones up. She's awake. I am just on auto pilot. Some people don't click-on until coffee has saturated their guts and senses. Since I can't handle the caffiene scene, I turn to the news, either on TV or the internet, and I look for email and comments, then I slowly start to become coherent, sort of. No one in our family ever truly sleeps late, unless he or she is sick. Being sick of school sometimes causes Alex or Max to linger in bed a bit later. I wish I could sleep late, the way I could as a teen. William is our resident teen and even he gets up reasonably early. Geoff is the most cat-like in his sleep habits. Sometimes he falls asleep early in the evening, then wakes in the middle of the night. He gets naps, more than a goodnight's sleep. Then he is up and on his way back to work. His long hours are horrible for maintaining regular sleep patterns.

We are expecting company in April. Ruth and Jim are coming for an explore of the Mainland. We've heard a most distressing rumor that they are thinking of relocating. They've been Big Island regulars for close to twenty years. It's difficult to imagine them any where else. They have so completely adapted to Island living; sometimes I forget they were midwesterners and even dabbled in So Cal-ese. I wouldn't say they have island fever, a commonly cited complaint of some island dwellers. I think they have grand-baby fever, that is a burning desire to hang out with the next generation. The ocean between us is an awfully wide, and deep barrier to impromptu visits.

The rumor of their relocating is distressing because we have seen them spend happy, fulfilling time in Hawaii. Our family has been on a long quest to move to Hawaii and join them in the Island Style, warm days, tropical breezes, fresh fruit, exquisite views, and aloha. There is a perceptible change of attitude, mood and thinking that takes hold when one is in Hawaii, and we hate to think that Ruth and Jim could lose the pleasure of that, by selling their beautiful home and farm.

On the other hand... who are we to question the wisdom of charting new courses and making new plans, of following your instincts? We would mourn the loss of our tropical getaway, true, but we stand to gain more time with Ruth and Jim. We stand to gain opportunities for spontaneous visits and more holidays together. Holly and I make the most of our proximity for family togetherness, but other than that, regular time spent with extended family is hard to come by around here.

When they arrive, Ruth and Jim will spend a few days in the area, visiting all of us and getting familiar with some of the more rural neighborhoods of So Cal. Then they will motor east to Arizona and New Mexico, leaving a little time for more grand-baby bonding before they fly home. I am starting to really wake-up now and three ideas are coming to mind, rising like the sun: #1. Mom and Corm, if you want an easy driving range for frequent visits, keep the distance well under 20 hours. My mom can attest to this. A 20 hour drive is long, long, long and intimidates most visitors. #2. Anyone thinking of seeing Ruth and Jim should think about coming to town in April. #3 Family that ever thought "We'll have plenty of time to go to Hawaii and be treated to Island Style splendor," had better get busy. I know we are feeling anxious to ensure we have at least one last stay with Ruth and Jim, in their amazing home.

It's light out now. Time to find socks, eat whole grains, pack lunches, find books, comb hair and get out the door.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Happy Birthday Griffin!

Well, since I made my offer to post any pictures, I have received jpgs from only one person (my readership is HUGE.) Actually, I'm not even sure she was expecting me to post these. It just happens to be her grandson's birthday.

Happy birthday Griffy! You look like you know how to have a good time, so we want to party with you someday soon.

Griffy turned five

and Carol, our aunt, his grandmother, made this awesome Cars cake. Carol mentions that she was not happy with the results. I think she is being hard on herself. While I haven't been monkey wrestling lately (or ever) I know what she means about taking on an important job after a tiring day; it can be tough. Look at Griffy's expression: he knows a good cake when he sees one!

Around here we are definitely fans of Cars, and we are even bigger fans of homemade and decorated cakes. Alex and I especially have tried to pick up decorating skills for our volcano cakes, and who can forget our Not For Dessert Cake?

Photographic Memory

This is... let me think... this is round three of the Back in Time Photo Journey. The selection is once again random, yet sentimental and quite limited in comparison with the 16,000 in the library. We finished 2003 with a Christmas visit to Capitola, then suddenly we were in 2004 and adjusting to life away from our beloved Rancho. Let's time travel together, shall we?

Driving north in our own miracle van, we came across this Miracle Van in Santa Barbara.

Come to think of it I have seen many different wild cars, and decorated bicycles in Santa Barbara. It's a bit highbrow in that town, but clearly it's a funky artist haven too.

Here's one of those loaded shots, that brings all kinds of memories to the surface. I call it "dork-in-law." Bill and Alison entrusted their beautiful waffle maker to me. We were all at their Taqueria to make a Christmas morning breakfast buffet. Alison walked in to the room just as I had managed to overflow batter Everywhere, like a total dork. I was equally as stunned as she was. I wish I had a picture of her expression, which was of disgusted bewilderment and doubt. It was so bad, she looked ready to fire me and she had to ask, "Are you sure you know what you're doing?" My bad.

I've made 100s of waffles, with no floods or deaths. Oh well. I never told anyone that I was pregnant at the time. Would that have made a good defense? I definitely do lose skills when I am pregnant.

The new year. William is in this 2004 sunset picture, taken in Del Mar. We were on a family walk. Even without photographs, I would remember this evening. It was beautiful and we were feeling good, expectant, and happy.

Aloha time. I was in Kona without Geoff. He was working, and joined us for the last weekend of our stay and his birthday. Here are the boys at their favorite Hawaii park.

We stayed busy on this trip. Ruth and Corm were busy too, working their day jobs and commuting to Honoka'a to finish building their home. This is the trip when we learned about "Crocagators." A very local guy, in Kealakekua, explained that this was "a Lady Jackson chameleon and not one of those crocagators you sometime see."

Not a crocagator.

This was a fantastic weekend. Holly, Rich Nicholas and our family caravanned to Napa for James and Deanne's wedding. They are such generous and dear friends, and we had a lot of fun both at the wedding and all around Napa. Holly, we must return. Wasn't the hotel deal too awesome?

The day of the wedding, Holly and I had our four boys at an outlet mall looking for dress shoes. Boys and dress shoes! They are hard to find, fit and rationalize. Ours still look brand new, but of course they have outgrown them. May be Nick could wear Alex's by now.

Our boys looked handsome, they were very well behaved, and cute too. Nick is checking out the spaghetti method of another wedding guest. Deanne made sure there were Lego bricks, as gifts, for all the children. Very thoughtful.

This picture is my memorial to Stuffed French Toast. 101 Diner hasn't been the same since Dominic left. He made the place. Bill and Delia know what I'm talking about.

Here is my handsome husband, up a tree in Kona and surveying the land. I highly suspect we are not through with Hawaii.

Anne, look at these children! She and I know that they have grown, and once again, I am extremely grateful to have the pictures to remind me that Jacob, William, Tamsyn, Alex, Adam and Max were once much smaller.

As soon as we are cold-free, I want to meet at the pond and play again. How about a hike and picnic?

I like to see the things children will do, when sticks, leaves and water are available, and nothing else but imagination.

Joy, pride... I feel good thinking of this day.

Did you know there is more you can do with cheap shaving cream than shave?

Choose a shaving cream with a tolerable fragrance, then find a smooth surface and willing participants. My boys have sensory issues, so I actually consider this therapeutic.

What begins with timidity and trepidation, soon evolves.

It actually feels good and it cleans the surface quite nicely.

Max overcame. Totally.

More later. You know I can't help myself.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Healthy Choices

Checking "What's For Dinner" is getting to be a habit.* Anne knows what's cooking in the world of vegetables and she's up to the challenge of making healthy choices. Tonight we are having albondigas for our dinner; soup, with turkey meatballs and veggies, like zucchini, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and lots of fresh cilantro. Alex helped me roll the meatballs and chop some veggies. Then William and Maria kept me company while I chopped more vegetables and minced garlic cloves. I learned my recipe from my mom, and later I learned my abuela's method too, though I have not had the opportunity to use fresh venison, as she did. As with most recipes there are variations, but if I don't have fresh cilantro, coriander, or harina de maiz on hand, then I won't bother. In a few minutes I'll make a masa and prepare some hot corn tortillas to dip in our soup. ¡Sabroso! This recipe you'll have to learn in my kitchen.

*Updated September 7, 2010
Alas, Anna Banana does not keep her healthy blog any more, but fortunately she still answers the phone when I need good dinner ideas. This is a funny coincidence: I am making this albondigas recipe for dinner tonight! Love me a crazy-random happenstance!
It may be time to step in to my alternate universe.
Yesterday I was open to the possibility of healing and balance, to magic and a turn of the tide. I didn't stay in bed waiting for the UPS truck to drop off a package of "All Better." I cleaned house and fed children. I unpacked the big box that was labeled 100% Easter, so that for once my children could hope to live in an appropriately and festively decorated house for Easter. I did affirmative things, and made daring steps toward my future, and I wrote letters, made phone calls, I hung some art on the bare walls, and bought groceries...

I continued to monitor the children,

to be sure they were keeping

healthy habits.

While I cleaned and organized I made the mistake of letting Maria explore in the Easter box and now it looks like spring and bunnies vomited all over the family room. I remained calm and philosophical, reasoning that the activity kept her happy and distracted. Maria woke from her nap with an eye sealed in gunk. She woke from her nap with the same congested cough Max has, Alex has, Geoff has. She woke from her nap sad and tender. Max threw-up, again. Alex sleeps or coughs, or coughs in his sleep. All the phone calls and letters, the daring steps? So far, I've got 'no reply,' and 'no comment.' The two boys are falling behind at school, and they'll be missing the school field trip tomorrow. I've been missing out too, like Yanina's surprise lunch and birthday walk, and seeing Anne's new yard and plants. And remember the "Easy Knitting" book by Klutz? I pretty much suck.

This is all very tired, random and pathetic and I'm not even disclosing all of our lows and burdens, but it serves to illustrate just why I am ready to visit my alternate universe. I am not going to bother describing it in any detail. I am going to close my eyes and think of all the ways things could be better, cleaner, nicer. After 20 minutes or so, I will open my eyes and start all over again; washing hands, cleaning, folding, unpacking, making calls, hoping, praying, mothering.

I got one email today, from "A Year in Bread. I want to play along and be a baker too. Later, after baking, I want to print this alphabet and hang it in our own school room. I love my alternate universe.